Who Needs Property Rights?

Anyone interested in the future of property rights in America’s cities should take some time to view the Webcast of Case Western Reserve University Law School’s conference on eminent domain last Friday. The conference did an excellent job of fleshing out the fundamental differences in perspective between mainstream economic development professionals and those that view property rights as a fundamental civil right. The U.S. Supreme Court will be weighing on this issue later this year when it rules on Kelo v. City of New London. At stake is the future of property rights in U.S. cities. The Institute for Justice is litigating on behalf of the homeowners in New London and have a brief detailing the facts of the case. If New London and economic development professionals win, housing and neighborhoods are little more than deckchairs that can be rearranged at will. Private property rights in any meaningful sense–protection against either government or other private property owners–will no longer exist. In essence, any public or private land developer that believes they have a project that will generate higher tax revenues for the city and is politically persuasive will be able to use the eminent domain powers of city government to take homes and raze neighborhoods. The conference featured pitted some of the most prominent advocates for eminent domain in economic development against some of the best and brightest in the property rights school, including Jonathan Adler (Case Western Reserve University), Steve Eagle (George Mason University), Eric Claeys (St. Louis University), Tim Sandefur (Pacific Legal Foundation), and Bert Gall (Institute for Justice). The second panel focused on policy and that’s where the discussion became particularly stark and pointed. Economic Development professionals want complete discretion over property to further the goal of economic development. Reason has just released a policy study on eminent domain’s abuse in cities, and the magazine published an article